How to Handle Contacts from Debt Collectors
What You Can Do
If debt collectors contact you, you can take steps to keep them from harassing you. Depending on your situation you may be able to:
In Massachusetts, the number of times collectors can contact you personally is limited so don't hang up right away. If you hang up or let your machine answer, they may not consider that as part of their limit.
Ask for their individual names and their companies' names they are required by law to tell you this information. You can tell them only your name and then you can say "I have nothing to say to you" and hang up.
If you do speak with a debt collector, even if you want to pay the debt, remember:
- Don’t react to their threats. They often try to frighten you into paying immediately by threats they don't intend or can't legally carry out, or by "limited time" offers
- Don’t give them any information at all, including information about:
- You or your family
- Work numbers or addresses
- Bank account numbers
- Don’t verify information for them
- Don’t discuss the debt with them
- Don’t return a debt collector's call
If They Call You at Work
- Tell them not to call you at work again
- Immediately send a letter telling them not to contact you at work
- Document the call - include names of co-workers they spoke to and what was said
In Massachusetts, collectors can't call you at work if you tell them not to. Your oral request is only valid for 10 days, but a written one is valid indefinitely.
When They Contact Other People
If collectors contact anyone other than you about the debt relatives, co-workers, neighbors or friends, obtain as much of the same information as possible from that person. The law restricts collectors' contacts with other people about your debt.
When Debt Collectors Violate the Law
Even if They Stop Contacting You
If debt collectors violate the law when they contact you, you may have a good claim against them for money damages. Even if collectors stop contacting you, you may still have a claim for what they did to you before they stopped.
Sometimes pursuing your claim is the only way to stop debt collectors' contacts. Sometimes it may even help to clear up a negative reference on your credit report.
Documentation Is Important
Your documentation is needed to determine whether collectors have violated the law and to prove your case if they have. Be sure to document the details of each call and letter. This can make the difference in how strong your case is. Follow these instructions to keep track of contacts:
Keep a Log of Contacts
Try to take notes during calls if possible. Afterward, write the following information in your log:
- Date and Time of day
- Name of both the collector and the company (Always ask -- note if they don't give it)
- Collector's phone number (Always ask -- note if they don't give it)
- Type of contact (phone call, letter, in person, voice mail message, etc.)
- Who called whom?
- Details of your conversation (quote exact phrases you remember)
- Threats made
- Your understanding of the threats
Keep a different log for each collection agency that has contacted you, even if they involve the same debt.
Effects on You
Another item to document is how the debt collector is affecting your emotional and/or physical condition. This differs from the who/what/when records in your log, so keep a separate log to track their effects by writing:
- Date of the call or letter
- Its effect on you and how you felt afterward. Include any cumulative effect of all contacts.
- Details are important if you got an upset stomach or headaches, lost sleep, became angry, yelled at your kids, note this.
- If you went to a doctor or needed medication, keep detailed records.
- Note whether the call/letter caused you to do anything.
If you didn't record earlier calls or letters, try to reconstruct those you remember. Look at a calendar and think about what other events occurred about the same time. Approximate dates (such as "the week of __" ) are ok if you aren't sure. Include as much information as you remember.
Note the date you write up this information.
Keep all message tapes, voice mail entries and caller ID records. Save messages others took for you and your original notes from calls.
Take tapes out of your answering machine and date them. Keep blank tapes handy in case you get several messages. If your system doesn't use tapes, save the messages, note the date and instruct others not to erase them. Try recording the messages with a tape recorder through the phone or on your computer.
Write a "transcript" of all messages in your log.
Save phone bills. Get receipts for copies, faxes, postage, medications, etc. for this matter. Keep them with your other documents. If you have no receipt for an expense, note the date, amount and purpose.
When They Send You Letters
As with phone calls, don't react to threats. Just because threats are in writing doesn't necessarily mean they are real. Don't respond to letters by calling the collectors.
Non-creditor collectors must contact you in writing within 5 days of their first phone contact. Note whether you receive any letters and the dates. If you didn't keep their earlier letters, try to reconstruct their dates as for calls.
Save originals of everything you receive in writing: letters, envelopes, etc. Staple papers that came together. Don't write on any originals! Keep your documentation together in a safe place --they may be needed later to determine your rights.
If You Mail Them Anything
Send any letters to collectors by certified mail, return receipt requested. Date your letter, include your name and address and keep a hard copy. Staple certified mail receipts to your copy. See our section on Documenting Your Case for more information.
Stopping Debt Collection Contacts
You can stop "third-party" (non-creditor) collectors two ways:
By writing them within 30 days after their first letter saying you dispute the debt or you want them to verify the debt. This only stops them until they verify the debt to you.
By writing them at any time saying you refuse to pay or that you wish them to stop contacting you. After that, any contacts with you are strictly limited.
Stopping collectors’ contacts may not always be the best action. Contact your lawyer to discuss your specific situation.
Be aware that paying the debt doesn’t remove a negative references from your credit report. These can remain on your report for up to 7 years. Contact your lawyer to discuss your specific situation.
If Your Rights Have Been Violated
The frequency of debt collectors' contacts with you is restricted by law. They also may not harass or abuse you, make false or misleading misrepresentations, or engage in unfair, deceptive or unconscionable practices without violating the law.
If you feel your rights have been violated, you should contact your lawyer to plan the best course of action for your individual case.
The Law Office of Yvonne W. Rosmarin has helped many clients fight back against debt collectors' illegal conduct. This office can often represent consumers in such cases at no cost to the client.